It has to be one of the oddities of our history: the near-obsessive level of attention that, for almost 60 years, Washington has lavished on a modest-sized, impoverished island-nation of little strategic importance 90 miles off our southern coast. I’m talking, of course, about Cuba, which the U.S. has embargoed since 1959, as it hasn’t North Korea or any other country on this planet.
It was a U.S. bailiwick with an all-American autocrat running it until 1959 when Fidel Castro’s guerilla movement took the country by storm. Almost immediately, it would become the prize in the Cold War set-to between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Who of a certain age (I’m speaking, of course, about myself) could forget October 22, 1962? That night, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation by television and radio, offering a chilling warning about an ongoing nuclear stand-off with the Soviets over Cuba. “We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth,” he said, “but neither will we shrink from the risk at any time it must be faced.” Though we hadn’t known it until that moment, we were in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis during which the world came as close to ending as it ever has in our nuclear era.
And here was the odd thing: when the Soviet Union disappeared from the face of the Earth in 1991, an ebullient (if shocked) Washington declared ultimate victory, proclaimed itself the “sole superpower” on planet Earth, and then continued to embargo the island and obsess about it and its dangers as if the Cold War were still the global paradigm. Cuba has, in other words, been on this country’s mind for almost six decades now. Given this history, it’s hardly surprising that TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer would visit that island to escape from our increasingly bizarre “American” world and instead meet that world face to face.